The following is an excerpt from the book Schopenauer’s Porcupines by gifted writer, Deborah Anna Luepnitz, PhD. She writes about relationships in an accessible way and captures nuances like few others. I encourage you to consider purchasing the whole book. She also wrote The Family Interpreted.
[The porcupine was a gift to Freud from psychologist G. Stanley Hall on the occasion of Freud’s only visit to America in 1909. According to one account, Freud claimed he was going to America to catch sight of a wild porcupine and to give some lectures. This whimsical remark apparently was meant to reflect anxiety about lecturing. But why a porcupine? We know only that the founder of psychoanalysis kept the little creature on his desk and in plain view.
I ask if the statue could refer to the porcupines in Arthur Schopenhauer’s well-known fable, a story Freud liked enough to cite in his book on group psychology. Erica seems delighted by my question. As we sit together over tea, I paraphrase the fable as follows:
A troop of porcupines is milling about on a cold winter’s day. In order to keep from freezing, the animals move closer together. Just as they are close enough to huddle, however, they start to poke each other with their quills. In order to stop the pain, they spread out, lose the advantage of commingling, and again begin to shiver. This sends them back in search of each other, and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing.
The story spoke to Freud as a lesson about boundaries. (No one can tolerate a too intimate approach to his neighbor.) It spoke also to his belief that love is everywhere a thorny affair. Freud wrote, “The evidence of psychoanalysis shows that almost every intimate emotional relation between two people which lasts for some time–marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children–contains a sediment of feelings of aversion and hostility, which only escapes perception as a result of repression.” Freud believed that the one exception to this was the love of a mother for her son, which was based on narcissism, proving only that he was among many other things, an Old World Patriarch.]